Whitney was a beautiful 8lbs, 3oz breech baby, delivered by C-Section. Babies born this way are predisposed to hip dysplasia, a condition wherein the hip socket is not completely formed. My (now ex-) husband was a physician and I, a nurse at the hospital where Whitney was born, so we felt confident in receiving the best medical treatment available. Thankfully, all the experts agreed there was no hip dysplasia.
Whitney’s birth brought profound joy AND profound disorder to my life. The things I had come to take for granted—like sleeping, eating, showering…vanished overnight. During those first three months of motherhood, I was a hot mess! My saving grace was having my own mother not only show me the ropes, but also reassure me I was doing great. We’d always been close, but never did I feel more appreciation for my Mom than during those first few months.
The three-month mark of motherhood coincided with Father’s Day and as we enjoyed a family barbecue, I remember thinking, “I’m starting to get the hang of this motherhood thing!” As I basked in the welcome glow of that normalcy, I was abruptly jolted into a new reality as I heard the most terrifying scream, followed by ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, THUD! I sprinted to the staircase, to witness my husband flat on his back, and sweet, fragile, 3-month old Whitney lying motionless on the floor. I froze in terror! Whitney was not moving or crying and my husband was shrieking “Oh My GOD! I dropped the baby!!!”
I quickly scooped her up and held her very close. After a few moments, she began to cry inconsolably; a cry that days ago would have tortured my soul, but at that moment was music to my ears.
We whisked Whitney to the hospital where x-rays confirmed a broken right femur and a very slight hip dysplasia, which had been ruled out after birth. In the first of several ironies, the fall down the stairs was a blessing in disguise. If the dysplasia weren’t detected until later in her life, she would require surgery. The worst she would endure now was a little leg cast. Right? Wrong!
Just days after concluding, “I can do this motherhood thing,” my mindset melted into gut-wrenching drama. Our stay in the hospital was five days, wherein Whitney’s little leg was suspended in traction. I never left her room and much of my time was spent watching helplessly, unable to hold and nurture her, contorting my body to breastfeed while standing next to her crib. On the 5th day, Whitney was placed in a full body cast, from her armpits to her toes and we were free to leave.
Finally home, the situation was significantly better, although it felt as new as when we brought her home after birth. She couldn’t fit in a car seat, due to her new “tree-trunk” physique and none of her newborn clothing fit. During this traumatic time, my Mom stepped up again and demonstrated motherhood in a big way. The appreciation I’d always felt for her began to escalate tenfold.
With my husband working 50+ hours a week, he couldn’t help much with Whitney. So for the next three months, my Mom moved in with us. She stayed from Monday until Friday, returning to Dad on weekends. In many ways, those were the best three months of my life. After living away from home for many years, it was quite unique to be living with my Mom again and she and I connected as never before. She helped me see that motherhood was not something to fear, but rather a privilege to embrace and enjoy. When I was tired she’d say, “go take a nap!” When I needed time with my friends, she’d say, “go out, enjoy yourself.” And every afternoon at 1:00 we’d make a pot of coffee and watch our favorite soap, As the World Turns.
After three long months, Whitney’s cast was finally removed. It was such a joy to hold her again and do all the things I had taken for granted before the fall: touching her skin, wiping her little butt, and blowing raspberries on her belly. I had my normal baby back; a baby who could fit in a car seat and wear regular clothes. Life was good again!
Mom moved back with Dad full-time, as there was no need for her to stay. I remember hugging her goodbye the day she left saying, “I don’t know how I can ever thank you for all your help.” And her reply…”oh honey, the pleasure was all mine!”
Just two short weeks later, the phone rang. It was my Dad, who said, “Mommy feels like she’s having a heart attack.”
As a nurse, my training screamed “CALL 911!”, but instead I said, “Let me talk with her.”
Trying to sound calm… “Mom, what’s going on?”
In a shallow voice, barely audible, she responded, “I love you.”
“I love you too, tell me about the pain.”
Even quieter now, “I love you Lin…”
I told my Dad to call an ambulance right away and we would meet him at the hospital. As soon as I saw the doctor’s face, I knew; I’d seen the look before. Mom was only 63 years old when she died that day.
My Mom was my very best friend. Prior to her death, if I contemplated someone telling me, “Your mother is dead,” I was certain I’d go to pieces. Yet somehow, I was OK. I felt an indescribable spiritual comfort; a deep and innate knowing that Mom had not merely died, but had gone somewhere amazing.
Friends and family were so concerned about me, the youngest (and favorite!) of her three children. Everyone knew how close we were and worried I would fall apart. I kept saying, “I don’t think it’s ‘hit me’ yet,” because I never did fall apart, as I would have expected. I had a sense of peace and gratitude about the whole experience that overrode the grief. I became fervently aware that life does not end when the physical body dies and that is, perhaps the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
I’ve always been a spiritual person, but never to the degree I experienced when Mom died. Even in death, she teaches me lessons of life and love. Today, 27 years later. I feel endless appreciation for the incredible string of circumstances that began with my husband dropping our baby ( allowing me to spend the last three months of Mom’s life living with her) and culminated with my last phone call with Mom (a conversation I would have missed if I’d told Dad to hang up and call 911); a moment when she managed, through her pain, to say the final words she would ever speak to me: “I love you Lin…..”
By Linda Ryan
Linda Ryan is an Intensive Care Nurse turned Personal Coach. Her expertise is helping you understand how powerful your thoughts and feelings are, when it comes to creating the life or business you want.